By Katy Nesbitt
Wallowa Valley Online
JOSEPH, Ore – The Chief Joseph Days Rodeo court is going through the final preparation for tonight’s premier performance including one last rehearsal for the grand entry, complete with their hair in hot rollers.
Fans have long come to expect beauty, brains and horsemanship from Chief Joseph Days’ courts along with their curls, custom-made suedes and Pendleton coats. Expertly horse trained and outfitted, these girls are the ambassadors for Wallowa County’s pinnacle summer event.
Queen Lauren Makin said they made their debut public appearance with the 2015 court in November at the Circuit Finals in Yakima. Clad in their Pendleton wool coats in sunset colors of red, orange and yellow, the girls were recognized on the big screen at the rodeo.
“It was cool,” Makin said. We got to tag along and see what the 2015 court had been doing all year.”
This year the girls’ suedes, worn for special appearances and parades, are bright yellow with red trim. Chaperone Brinda Stanley said they really make the girls stand out.
Princess Sarah Aschenbrenner said, “But people are used to Chief Joseph Days outfits standing out.”
They may have helped the girls win two parades this year – the Asotin Rodeo parade in April and the Elgin Rodeo parade earlier this month.
Almost a year after the girls tried out for the court, they reflected on their experiences. Makin said before she was on the court she was petrified of public speaking.
“Now I freaking love it,” Makin said.
Aschenbrenner said she’s come out her “bubble” and learned to make more of an effort to talk to people and expand her friendships.
All three girls said they enjoy seeing the other courts as they tour the different rodeos and meeting following the careers of the PRCA cowboys.
While the stress of ticket sales may bring court members to tears, the confidence building, and the results, paid off. This year both Makin and Aschenbrenner broke the previous record set by Addie Kilgore in 2015, but the girls’ combined sales were a record breaking $93,000.
Chaperone Brinda Stanley said each of the girls were allowed to give away some of their tickets to groups of their choice. Princess Taylor Grote said she gave hers to women going through chemotherapy, Achenbrenner gave hers to Wallowa County veterans and Makin gave two tickets to each family that entered an animal in the county fair.
For the court, one of the biggest weekends besides Chief Joseph Days are the Molalla and St. Paul rodeos over Independence Day weekend. Aschenbrenner said their seats at St. Paul were right behind the bucking chutes and they were privy to the grunting of the animals and the conversation among the cowboys. Makin said they drooled over the St. Paul arena, which is in the shape of an oval. While run-ins during rodeo grand entries are a highlight for the court girls and their horses, at St. Paul, they said, they walk in to the arena with a hand out to give a high five to the spectators.
Princess Taylor Grote said during the National Anthem it was so loud that the screaming sounded more like a roar during the line, “bombs bursting in air.”
Stanley said the crowds at St. Paul are amazing. “On July 3 they had a sold out show and the arena holds 10,000.”
With several events under their belts, this week the girls get to enjoy their rodeo, but not without anxiety. Aschenbrenner said she’s had nightmares this week.
“I dreamt that it was the Wednesday night performance and the only people who showed up in the stands were our families and they all sat at different ends of the arena – it was awful!”
Chief Joseph Days Rodeo court members are well known for their horsemanship, but these three girls are special. Last year all three won the Dad Potter award – a prestigious, competitive and difficult set of patterns in which horse 4-H members in Union and Wallowa County compete.
But even good horsewomen have horse trouble. Aschenbrenner said, “We are horsewomen to the point all of us have had to get on a different horse.”
Makin said she tried out on a horse last summer that tore his meniscus. A month before the second round of tryouts she started riding a four year-old gelding, but he slipped in the heavy mud of the arena during the second tryouts and pulled a muscle in his back end.
“When I got off he didn’t want to walk and was limping,” Makin said. “When I came out of the arena people were telling me, ‘You have to get on another horse.’”
Rodeo volunteer and Tuckerette member Dena Miller loaned her a horse to do her run-in portion of the competition.
Grote said she her horse can’t run anymore so is now a trail horse, but she got a new horse in time for the second tryouts and she said, “And that was good.”
Aschenbrenner’s horse came down with pneumonia six weeks ago and borrowed another one of Miller’s horses. She will likely be using two different horses for the various events this week she said.
Stanley said, “Sometimes the girls have to step up and do what they have to do.”
Back home the girls got a real appreciation for what it takes to put on a rodeo as they help the volunteers prepare the grounds.
Stanley said, “I think the girls have a really appreciated how hard the directors and volunteers work and how much the grounds have changed.”
Makin said, “People are doing everything from pulling weeds to picking up sticks, painting and raking, the little things people don’t notice.”
So now it’s time for the girls to hear the roar of their hometown crowd as they run into the arena horseback in the first performance of the 2016 Chief Joseph Days Rodeo.
Photography ©Charity Ketscher Photography